MACHIAS, Maine — When pre-kindergarten teacher Sandra Richards brought a plum to work at Rose Gaffney School in Machias earlier this year, some of the children in her class had no idea what it was.
The pupils’ ignorance of basic healthful food prompted Richards and a co-worker, Ada Raye, to develop a program that emphasized healthful, local foods — “growing foods” Richards calls them — “to influence healthy food choices for future years.”
Thursday night, Richards was one of dozens of Maine educators who were awarded a combined $50,000 in agriculture grants by Maine’s Agriculture Commissioner Seth Bradstreet.
The funding for the grants came from the agricultural specialty license plate, the brainchild of Willie Greenier, who runs the statewide Maine Agriculture in the Classroom program.
“I am very inspired by you,” Bradstreet told the recipients and teachers, many whom were winding up a weeklong intensive, the Maine Agriculture in the Classroom Summer Institute, held at the University of Maine at Machias. During this week, the educators visited blueberry barrens, an aquaculture farm, a salmon hatchery, a diversified family farm, and studied ways to integrate agriculture into their classrooms.
Bradstreet said the summer institute had only seven teachers its first year, but that more than tripled this year.
“I’m a farmer,” he said. “We have a third-generation farm in Newport. This program is so beneficial to the farming community.”
Bradstreet said when he graduated from high school 30 years ago, there were seven farmers in his class. When his son graduated a few years ago, he was the only one.
From field trips to community gardens to intense agricultural studies, the grants will bring the importance and the breadth of Maine agriculture into dozens of classrooms and affect hundreds of children and their families.
Richards said she would use part of her $1,000 grant to buy fresh, local food for the children to sample. “I can’t preach and not provide,” she said.
One of the projects to receive a large grant of $4,600 is led by Kevin Duplissie of the University of Maine Child Study Center.
Duplissie’s plan will expose the more than 40 children at the UM Center, their families, and more than 50 university students to the concepts of what agriculture provides for them and how.
Using resources from Maine Agriculture in the Classroom, books, and other materials, university students will lead weekly lessons, which will be followed up with growing projects, fieldtrips, and class activities throughout the entire year.
Other awards include:
2010 MAITC grants up to $1,000:
• Ashland FFA (formerly the Future Farmers of America), Janet Perry, adviser — $1,000.
• Caribou FFA, Thomas Hale, adviser — $950.
• Pride’s Corner Pre-K of Westbrook, Kristin Reindl and Suzanne Berzinis — $1,000.
• Sacarrappa Elementary Pre-K of Westbrook,
• Kelly Burgess — $1,000.
• Rose M. Gaffney School, Machias, Sandra Richards — $1,000.
• Service Learning Coordinator at Winthrop, Margy Burns Knight — $524.50.
• Hope Elementary School, Erik Wade — $500.
School Garden Grants of $2,000:
• Rebecca Jacobs — Common Ground School Garden, Thomaston.
• Lou Ann Parker — Benton School Garden Project,
• Benton Elementary School.
• Casey Cote — The Growing Classroom, Woodland.
• Daniel Morang — Perry’s Green Dream, Perry
• Perry Elementary School.
• Deborah Emery — Cottrell Greenhouse Project, Monmouth, Henry L. Cottrell School.
• Richard Rudolph — Hollis Garden Project, Rippling Waters Farm in cooperation with Hollis Elementary School.
• Victor Esposito, Jr. Vassalboro Garden Project,
• Vassalboro Community School.
Ag Awareness Grants up to $5,000:
• SAD 1 Presque Isle, Aaron Buzza — Educational Farm Tour Experience, $4,416.
• Jay Middle School, Rob Taylor — Agriculture and Architecture, Permaculture Dome Project, $4,600.
• University of Maine at Orono Child Study Center,
• Kevin Duplissie — Children’s Minds Need Growing, $4,600.
• Page Farm & Home Museum, Leonard’s Mills Maine Forrest and Logging Museum, Mary D. Bird — Fiber-Maineia Classroom Outreach Project, $4,048.
• Common Ground Fair, Unity, Andrew Marshall — Educational Opportunities at the fair, $4,600.
• Wilton Free Public Library, Sandy Warren — The Food Around Us, $4,002.
• Leavitt Area High School, Sharon Hathaway — Exploring the River Valley, $4,553.